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Wednesday, May 16, 2012 - 6:30pm - 8:00pm

Human Garbage Lives Here

Ex-Combatants and the Struggle for Urban Space in Post-war West Africa

Stuart Hall
Room 105
5835 South Greenwood Avenue
Chicago IL, 60637

Danny Hoffman
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of Washington

Major General Human Garbage, like thousands of former fighters from the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, leads a precarious urban existence.  All over Freetown and Monrovia are interstitial spaces in which young men temporarily shelter.  “Barracked” in the ruins of government buildings, in graveyards, and in beach shacks throughout the city, ex-combatants are made available to be quickly redeployed wherever their particular form of labor is required.  Informality, invisibility, and marginality, the terms most often associated with African urbanism, only begin to help us understand these young men’s struggles to live in the city today.  To be recognized as subjects in post-war urban space, Human Garbage and other young veterans must make uncertain wagers on the benefits of visibility and the profitability of violence.  The ways these young men talk about themselves and their futures, and the ways they attempt to shape those futures, may tell us a great deal more about the nature of the contemporary African city.

Danny Hoffman's scholarship, teaching and civic engagement are based primarily on ethnographic research in West Africa and on his background as a photojournalist working in Southern and East Africa. Since 2000 he has conducted fieldwork in Sierra Leone and Liberia on issues of youth mobilization during and after those countries’ recent wars. The resulting research explores how young men participate in regional networks that make them – and their capacity for violence – available for various forms of work. These include labor in the region’s resource extraction industries, labor on battlefields across West Africa and the labor of violent political campaigning. His complete bio can be found here.

Presented by the African Studies Workshop. Co-sponsored by the Center for International Studies.